NEXT WAR WILL COME TO ISRAEL CITIES, SYRIA WARNS – URGES ISRAEL TO CHOOSE PEACE

BY GEORGE BAGHADI
CBS News

Syria on Wednesday did not rule out a possible war with Israel and used stern language to warn the Jewish state that any future confrontation would be “comprehensive” and reach Israeli cities.

“Israel is indeed planting the seeds of war in the region, I would tell them stop playing the role of thugs in the Middle East,” Syrian Foreign Minister Waleed Mouallem told reporters Tuesday in Damascus.

“One day you threaten Gaza, next day you threaten Lebanon, later Iran and now Syria,” Mouallem said at the news conference with his Spanish counterpart.

“Don’t test, you Israelis, the determination of Syria. You know that war this time would move to your cities. Come to your senses and choose the road of peace. This path is clear,” Mouallem warned.

syria-feb-3
Spain’s Foreign Minister Miguel Angel
Moratinos, left, speaks during a join press
conference with his Syrian counterpart
Walid al-Moallem, right, at the Foreign
Ministry, in Damascus, Syria, Feb. 3, 2010.

His remarks were a response to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s own comments on Monday that the absence of a peace agreement with Syria could trigger a new Middle East war.

“No doubt, if we assume that this war would erupt – and we should not exclude this possibility from an entity established on expansion – I would say it is going to be a comprehensive war, whether it starts in the south of Lebanon or from Syria,” Mouallem said.

Spain’s chief diplomat, Miguel Angel Moratinos, who flew into the Syrian capital following two days of meetings in the West Bank and Tel Aviv with Palestinian and Israeli officials, sought to intervene during the joint news conference.

“I came in from Israel after meetings with most senior officials there, and I would tell you that I heard no drums of war, rather I felt a desire for peace,” said the Spanish foreign minister, whose country currently holds the rotating European Union presidency.

Moratinos pledged to make every effort to ensure that Middle East peace negotiations resume as soon as possible.

During the past two years, the Spanish minister has been one of the few senior European diplomats willing to continue visiting Damascus for talks with Syrian leaders.

Speaking Tuesday at a news conference with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah, Moratinos sounded optimistic about possible negotiations between Israel and Syria.

“They know the agenda, because it’s not new negotiations – they went very far in Shepherdstown, in the period of Barak, and both sides know what can be the base for the agreement,” he said, referring to talks led by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Syrian Foreign Minister Farouk al-Shara in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, in January 2000.

Moratinos served for years as the European Union’s envoy to the Middle East and as Spain’s ambassador to Israel, and knows the Israeli political system well.

The Syrian Foreign Minister confirmed his country had received a request from Washington to accredit a U.S. ambassador to Damascus, a latest sign of rapprochement between the two countries.

“The United States has nominated an ambassador. This is an American sovereign issue and it is Syria’s right to study the nomination,” Moualem told the press conference.

The United States withdrew its ambassador from Damascus in 2005 following the assassination in Beirut of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.

At that time Syria’s foes in Lebanon accused Damascus of being behind the bombing. Syria has denied any involvement.

Mouallem, however, did not confirm the name of the intended ambassador, who diplomatic sources have named as Robert Ford, Washington’s current deputy Ambassador to Iraq.

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